If you read an article that claimed a majority of business leaders believed that their sales and marketing teams are aligned, how would you react? Would you laugh at the outrageous optimism? Would you nod in agreement because, clearly, your team is among the aligned? Either way, there’s a bigger problem at hand: An undeniable lack of alignment around the meaning of sales and marketing alignment itself. This makes self-assessments essentially worthless. My team and I have gotten so damn tired of hearing about alignment but seeing no proof of its existence and no unity around its definition.
So, we got to work. We conducted a study, in partnership with Drift, to find out what constitutes real sales and marketing alignment. We probed the minds of 350 senior and C-level professionals in the sales and marketing departments of companies with a minimum of $25 million in revenue to ultimately understand the impact of alignment on the bottom line. The result? We finally have hard data to obliterate the fog of alignment and bring structure to the idea.
Here are five of the key takeaways we discovered.
1. We can’t trust our own perceptions of alignment.
The data doesn’t lie, but as leaders, it's easy to tell yourself everything is fine. Ninety percent of the leaders we surveyed said their sales and marketing teams are aligned. This number is important because it shows that alignment issues aren’t being dealt with in a vast majority of companies today. You can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s a problem. If you can’t see your misalignment, your business outcomes will suffer.
2. The best alignment is all about the customer.
Alignment has a singular navigation tool that is always able to guide it; its North Star, the customer. Our research revealed that the leaders of the pack in terms of alignment were united around their understanding of their customers and their customer journey. These sales and marketing teams had strong interpersonal relationships between them, as well, which only increased their collaboration abilities.
Here are some of the practical actions the sales and marketing teams engage in:
- Joint in-person strategy and planning sessions;
- Collaborate on case studies and practice sharing internal storytelling;
- Physical proximity — they sit near each other and are encouraged to have face-to-face discussions regularly;
- They have mutual KPIs, most of which are customer-focused (e.g. retention, satisfaction, etc.); and
- Marketing team members assist sales on customer visits at a minimum of once per quarter.
3. The lagging teams fail to share tech or data, and their KPIs are not customer-centric.
It might be surprising, but the least aligned companies still shared KPIs often — they just weren't customer-focused KPIs. Our survey also revealed that although the laggards also used technology and data, it was used in a segmented manner. It was obvious during our research that both of these aspects increased the divide between sales and marketing rather than removing it.
4. Shared leadership doesn’t equal alignment.
We had the hypothesis before commissioning this study that having a central leader like a chief revenue officer over both the sales and marketing teams would lead to higher alignment. It makes common sense that if there is one central leader then there would be a natural development of the two teams working in alignment, right? Wrong.
The data revealed that having a person in place that both the sales and marketing teams answer to, like a CRO, made no impact on the alignment of the teams one way or another. This doesn’t speak to the viability of the position, just that it's not a factor in alignment.
5. Alignment is a means to an end; not the end itself.
With all this focus on sales and marketing alignment, you could be excused for thinking that your primary goal should be the development of alignment. That simply isn’t the case. Alignment is important because, when done well, it drives important business outcomes (like revenue). The opposite is also true, these same outcomes will be hindered without alignment.
The bottom line is this: A thriving business is an aligned business. Alignment is part of the path to success, not the destination. If you are self-aware and driven enough to improve and learn from the tactics and techniques, we discovered SMAX leaders implement, you’re sure to experience better results. Oh, and the journey can be a little more fun too.
Download the full report here to dig into the details even more.
Justin Gray is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO and founder of LeadMD, the world’s largest Performance Marketing Consultancy, having helped over 3,500 organizations build scalable revenue engines. Over the last decade, Justin has made a career of launching successful companies and scaling them, with successful exits of over 200MM.